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The Rising iPhone Tide Will Lift Some Carrier Boats More Than Others

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Only one day left to iPhone news nirvana, and a lot of leaks are coming through about who will get to sell the device — and what, exactly, that device will be. Today, a new report out from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech takes that one step further to lay out which operator will benefit the most from a new iPhone — in the UK and the U.S., at least.

At the moment Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is number-three in terms sales in the quarter ended September 4 in the UK. Android took 48.3 percent of sales; BlackBerry 21.2 percent and Apple’s iOS took 20.8 percent of sales. But Dominic Sunebo, a research director at Kantar Worldpanel, believes that will change “considerably” after Apple introduces its newest products.

In the U.S. the story is even more unbalanced. For the same period, Android took 62.9 percent of all sales, while iPhone took 24.6 percent of all sales. (Yes, that also means that the rest of the smartphone platforms saw almost negligible business. The full list of sales is below this story.)

(Kantar Worldpanel ComTech is an ongoing market research project that continuously measures consumer mobile habits worldwide. It claims to conduct more than one million interviews annually for its research in Europe alone.)

What does this mean for iPhone sales going forward? In the UK, O2 lost its exclusivity on the iPhone in September 2009. But even so, Kantar notes that the company has managed to hold on to 45 percent of all iPhone customers in the UK. A significant portion of those customers — some 38 percent — have owned their devices for at least 18 months — meaning they are now in a position to upgrade.

In the U.S. AT&T (NYSE: T) managed to hold on to exclusivity of the iPhone for significantly longer: it only got its first competitor earlier this year when Verizon launched the iPhone. Kantar notes that the story is even stronger in that market. AT&T has 84 percent of all Apple customers in the U.S., it notes, and 44 percent of those AT&T iPhone owners have had their Apple mobile for 18 months or more.

If one assumes that O2 and AT&T will be offering those subscribers special deals to stay on their network, these two carriers are likely to see a lot more business from the new iPhone than other operators in their markets.

This will be helped, he says, by the fact that iPhone owners tend to be very loyal — unlike owners of some other brands, such as BlackBerry, which got a pasting in a survey last week that revealed more than half of all BlackBerry owners in the U.S. and nearly half in the UK were planning to switch to an iPhone after the new device came out.

In contrast, the Kantar panel reveals that some 70 percent of iPhone users upgrade to another iPhone when changing devices.

That doesn’t take account of the fact, though, that the majority — only just — are still without smartphones altogether: that will be a market that Apple (and all of the operators) are still hotly contesting. Kantar notes that currently 42 percent of UK consumers now own a smartphone.

The run-up to Apple’s iPhone event tomorrow has seen a run of reports of inventory lists indicating who will be stocking what kind of iPhone in the weeks ahead. It’s very much a trickle of news, though, and doesn’t give anything like the complete picture we will likely be seeing in the weeks ahead.

According to a screen shot from Radio Shack, Sprint will be on board as a new carrier for the CDMA version of the device, which has up to now only been carried by Verizon in the U.S. It will have at least a 16GB version of the iPhone, if you believe the report.

The same blog, 9to5mac, has pinpointed some product listings for Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) Germany that also point to a run of “4S” devices with a variety of storage options. China Unicom is also apparently gearing up for an HSPA version of the iPhone 5.